When I binge-read a work of fiction I’m deeply entrenched in, have I checked out of my body? Am I being unmindful? Am I checking out of my life? Or, is it possible to read fiction mindfully?Read More
I don’t remember why I first went in—it’s not like I have a thing for bagels. But I entered the shop into a long line and began the difficult process of not being a “bagel regular” and having no idea how I wanted to eat these plump round rolls with a belly button. (NYC bagel etiquette #1: Never call a bagel a roll.)
“Next!...Next!” The whole shop was a wave constantly shifting forward as customers shouted their orders à la carte to the men behind the counter. Dishes of flavored spreads are in tinted pastels. Would I like it toasted? …um, yeah? Three sets of arms fly through spatulas, grills, and toasters true to the noise and speed of a New York minute. I hear someone behind me request a plain. You have a plethora of options and you order a plain??…with regular cream cheese…?! Siddhartha Gautama grew up as a prince with wealth and plenty.
When I make it to the register, there it is, miraculously waiting for me, gift-wrapped and slid into a paper bag with shoved-in napkins. I’m spit out the door in under five minutes and five dollars. Made-on-site, I’m eating a morsel of NYC tradition and history. I’m gonna let you make my day dear bagel. At an outdoor table nearby I relished this brilliant orchestration of breakfast. The sun was shining and the event kept coming back to me.
On my next trip, I’m ordering for two and need to make a close train. My blood sugar is low and blood pressure high. My bag is extra heavy and forehead dewy. I can’t make a decision. I hate making decisions. Nothing sounds appealing. What a chore! It’s so clamorously LOUD in here. “NEXT!!” Oh! I spill out an unconfident order and anxiously twiddle my thumbs—at whatever pace the line is moving, it’s not moving fast enough. The cash register dings and I realize nothing aboutthe bagel shop has changed, but the experience I was hoping to repeat had vanished.
The third time, it’s the quietest I’ve seen the shop and there’s no line. A woman in white polka dots orders a large coffee with skim. Her pleasant expression is framed in air-drying ringlets. She’s bent over the counter while the cashier explains that she’s handing her one single, and then one five. She’s blind. I watch her leave with her hunched back reaching down to the harness her dog wears because it’s one that sees the streets.
Just outside, a woman with a healthy set of white hairs poking from her chin is clothed in an oversized tee that reaches her knees. A caretaker is nearby and her eyes don’t look like they’re registering anything. Does she ever get outdoors? Siddhartha steps out of the palace and sees illness and age for the first time. Or maybe he stubs his toe on the daily newspaper. Difficult realities can be a necessary attitude check. I sit underneath a park umbrella thinking.
So I had a mystical and humbling set of experiences sponsored by a bagel shop: a high, a low, and a dose of hardship. I learned a few lessons from my three sandwiches, but what happens the hundredth time I go? (Whoa—I don’t want to think about eating that many bagels!) But how do I sit for the thousandth time on a meditation cushion? Or always walk the same path to work or pick up a fork to yet another meal? We endlessly rise to another twenty-four hours of day separated by the concepts of months and years.
Yoga to me is more about the relationship and routine than about what’s being practiced. The material doesn’t change, yet we approach it in different ways and with different levels of education. I’ve heard Marianne Williamson describe a miracle as “a shift in perception.” We all have our own bagel shops, mats, and routines where we can compare our perspectives. Our practice is in understanding how we perceive and in coming back to the awareness of that fluctuation. What is the constant underneath? This can be pulling teeth or randomly easy.
I can have a euphoric sense of oneness and think that I’ve got “it,” but I know how often the cash register DINGS! me back awake, and I feel shameful about how I project my negative moods upon those close to me. The classic Buddha story covers ignorance and avoiding, or overly seeking, until there’s acceptance. I repeat this pathway on an hourly, if not moment-by-moment basis. If you really pay attention and are curious and observant in your routines, I think you’ll find the same lost and found repetitions. Life is all of these.
I don’t know the ultimate key. I don’t think there is one. All I can tell you are the times that I’ve been humbled and how many times I’m willing to try again. I can tell you that I prefer a bagel with the right “pull” and inner consistency, but how it tastes will depend on my perspective. And it won’t always be the latter half of bittersweet. Can I have two eyes, a slice of reality, and a spread of gratefulness on a WHOLE wheat EVERYTHING.
Photo by Callie Ritter
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Foundation and Yoga Pedagogy students, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current students, Julia Galanski, about a recent yoga class with TaraMarie Perri.
This past Wednesday, I participated in TaraMarie’s yoga class at Tisch Dance. The guiding anatomical focus of our class was the shoulder joint. This central idea allowed us to explore what openness in the chest could be as well as encouraging us to practice different pathways between asanas.
We began at the wall with a block between our legs. We used a strap to release tension across the front of our chest by finding tension in the strap. Already we set ourselves up for class by creating more room in our alignment to allow both greater stability and mobility. Our hips and spines first folded into flexion as we practiced Uttanasana before rolling up and finding a small arch backwards to the wall. After each sequence we would take a small step away from the wall. This allowed me to find more room in my back space with each cycle. Eventually, though, I reached my limit and continued to practice the cycles without moving further away from the wall. Even in this beginning movement I began to see a theme of creating more space in the body.
As the class continued we were challenged to move through our flow cycle with a different pathway. We took our downward facing dog directly to Chaturanga and then pressed up into upward dog. When we did cat and cow we used different verbal cues that focused on pulling the shoulder blades together, then releasing them. This called my attention to new spaces in my body. I was thinking of my side waist and my neck waist. I felt a physical openness across my heart and chest.
Instead of practicing an inversion we practiced half moon pose, first against the wall and then in the center. In half moon pose, once I let go of the stress attached to this difficult asana, I was amazed at the amount of ease and mobility that it allowed in the upper half of the torso. This experience connected me to the readings in The Wisdom of No Escape. Pema Chödrön writes, “We encourage ourselves to develop an open heart and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything” (32). This sense of openness, in my shoulders and in my approach to class, allowed me to learn information about my practice that I didn’t know I did not have. Chödrön also talks about continually finding your “edge” in your life. When my practice works to discover and create new spaces, I can find and push new limits.
TaraMarie began class by discussing her observation that more and more New Yorkers seem to be walking with their heads down and shoulders slumped, partially because of the need to see the street but also because of the prevalence of smartphones. I know that I allow myself to fall into this closed posture. I thought about my walk to class. The images that come to mind are of concrete, my phone screen, and crosswalks. This posture is not only an improper spinal alignment, but also a way of moving through the world that shuts me off from the people I pass on the street. This starting thought returned in the end of the practice. We spent a few minutes in meditation. It was the first time I had participated in this kind of meditation and it brought me back to reading The Wisdom of No Escape. We kept our eyes open and focused on our exhale. This mindful practice made me feel aware and present.
At first though, it felt separate from the class I had just taken. Then I remembered that Chödrön writes, “When we meditate, we’re creating a situation in which there’s a lot of space…you can see very clearly” (54). Our class did just not focus on anatomical space but the mental space to find new pathways between poses or the space to explore being present. Chödrön also discusses the idea that this is not a goal to reach but “being awake to the ebb and flow and movement” (17). To me, finding this kind of connectivity in my practice whether it is mental or physical lets me access a sense of the limitless possibilities and variability in yoga. It allows me to see the space that exists for me to continue growing in this practice for years to come.
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Nicholas Jon, about recent yoga classes with TaraMarie Perri and Maggie Gavin.
In classes with both TaraMarie and Maggie over the past couple of weeks, there has been a heavy emphasis on concepts related to the transition from summer to fall, and how this impacts the body, the mind, and the spirit. These ideas really resonated with me, as my life over the past couple of months has felt like one long transition: not only in terms of seasons, but also from college to the “real world,” from a set schedule to an open-ended one, and from being a practicing yogi to being a yoga teacher-in-training. It has taken me a few years to finally feel adjusted to living in New York City, but finishing school has forced me to reexamine and shift my mindset in order to adapt to new ways of experiencing the city.
The class theme of leaning into transition periods has supported me through this time and informed my daily life. A specific example that I really connected to was a class structure in which TaraMarie had us practice savasana multiple times throughout class. I have always understood savasana as having one specific purpose: allowing the work of class to set in, and relaxing the body while keeping the mind alert enough to process the physical and mental changes that have occurred. But allowing this experience to occur four or five times during one practice enlightened me to some of its other benefits. Every time I entered savasana, I had a more intense experience. The work in between was challenging, so physical exhaustion caused my body to feel more relaxed every time it was still. But at the same time, my mind became more invigorated and alert each time, with a sharper focus and a clearer ability to scan my body and notice any shifts that had taken place.
This dichotomy was a beautiful reminder of a way to cope with tricky transition periods. Though everyone has different reactions to transitions, I know they tend to overwhelm me. It’s not often that I allow myself ample time to relax and process what I’m going through, let the work I’ve been doing settle in, and get a firm grasp on my state of mind and body before allowing myself to move forward. Rather than forcing myself through transition periods, it’s better to let them happen at their natural pace without focusing on what just happened or what’s about to happen. The transition itself is just as important of an experience, and an inability to exist within it can hinder one’s ability to progress through it.
In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron provides brilliant perspective on this subject. Her discussion of impermanence sparks the idea that our lives may actually be just one long transition from birth to death--“once you are born, you immediately start dying”--or maybe a series of extremely short transitions from our in-breath to our out-breath. In this way, the transitions that we often feel overcome by are just part of life’s natural cycle, and should be taken in stride. If we get caught up in overanalyzing these transitions or trying to escape from them, we may never feel like we've gotten to the other side of them. Even when things seem tumultuous and you might not know how to proceed, what’s important is that “you’re able to recognize [when you have met your edge] because you are open enough to see what’s happening.” If you can identify this and be okay with it, it becomes easier to embrace the fleeting nature of life, and see transitions as what they inherently are: temporary.
The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer; dance teacher; and yoga teacher, certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.
"Life is not inherently meaningful. We make meaning happen through the attention and care we express through our actions." - Donna Farhi, from "Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness"
That first sentence stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it. I found myself reading it through again, and again, and again, pouring over the words in an effort to gain some hold over them. I couldn’t get beyond the idea that our lives—at their very base—are utterly blank canvases. But as I began to consider the trajectory of a life—from infant to toddler on up—the varied and deep layering of intention and purpose in a life slowly struck me.
Having been dealt a largely fresh slate from the universe after a summer of bold decisions and equally weighted repercussions, I was met this fall with an opportunity to take action in such ways that could renew or redirect the steps along my life story. I knew that I wanted to commit to moving forward with raw candor, and I knew too that I endeavored to make and follow through with choices that lay outside my comfort zone. But to decipher what all this meant—how I could successfully meet my truest self—required much reflection, and through that consideration, an intense stripping down of layers that no longer served me. Our choices so expressively seal our identity, but are those choices ones we want to reinforce, or must they shift to meet us at our present?
For whatever reason, I imagined myself landing at a point where I was clear and streamlined in a certain sense; contradictions would fall away, and I’d be standing there so solidly as this one being. It hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve realized how unrealistic such a vision is, for we all exist as such complex creatures, full of disparities that are no less valid or true in spite of their variety. I’d walked the earth for years attempting to fully embody my differing roles in whatever environment I found myself in; dancer, teacher, student wasn’t even the tip of it. Was I a contemporary dancer or a musical theater performer? A dance teacher? A yoga teacher? A creator? A collaborator? The web of it all spun out for miles.
I’m discovering that trying to distinguish between all these pieces of ourselves becomes complicated and unnecessary when all these diverse parts of us already coexist; we are blended beings, rich and full of nuance. Our lives are not homogenous events, as Donna Farhi so poignantly notes. Life changes, and we too must adapt and change along with it.
So I’m drawn back to this question, or call to action: if our lives are not meaningful in and of themselves, how will we give them meaning? What meaning do we want to fill our stories with? What meaning do we want to fill our stories with in this present moment?
With so much to tackle and pursue all at once, it seemingly becomes necessary to parse through all that surrounds us in order to choose and follow what is most valuable to our growth at a given time. I would use the word ‘prioritize’ to distinguish this act, but prioritizing sounds too black and white and too logical when such choices to follow certain goals over others emerge, I imagine, most sincerely from intuition and the depths of our souls. And in any case, regardless of what we do choose to pursue, we must recognize that our paths usually are not linear ones. The roads we set out on inevitably wind through experiences we couldn’t have even envisioned, and numerous forks in the road present themselves, or even force themselves, upon us.
One of the ethical principles of Yoga’s eight-limbed path is particularly relevant in considering these matters: aparigraha, or non-attachment. As much as we habitually seek out certainty and security, one unavoidable fact of our human existence is that impermanence permeates our lives. Impermanence serves as our one constant. Trying to hoard what we have only leads to suffering, as those people or objects or ideas will, in time, fade, or in some situations even vanish.
So then, how are we to acquire meaning if such uncertain transience exists as a base of our lives? I would extend the hope that we still plant seeds of growth in whatever arenas we aim to nurture, but perhaps as we harvest those same seeds, we can assess what is honestly in front of us, so as to recognize and interact with the reality that has presented itself to us, rather than the dream that lay in the backs of our minds or hearts. Because while we drive so much of what occurs in our day-to-day lives, there are countless variables that shift our actions and thoughts into unpredictable realms—and with all of that comes, I would suggest, even more meaning than we could have achieved on our own. I believe that it is that stark openness to our communities—those that are tangible and those that are less so—that enables us to transcend what superficial steps we take through our day and fills us with such a sense of connection and comprehension as to where we are in each moment.
Getting the chance to meet so many new people over the course of the summer embedded within me a desire to commune with strangers (in the safest of ways, Mom!). I have attempted to actually look at people I pass by and toss out a soft smile or converse with those who are serving me or surrounding me when it feels appropriate. What has been amazing in this experiment is the sense of intimacy and ease that has suddenly emerged in environments that otherwise had felt cold or purposeless. From this seed that I planted upon my return from time in a smaller town with a tightly bound community of friends and colleagues has come more curiosity and openness on my part, and the potential for even more growth in my interactions with those I don’t know. It has built meaning in my life, and simultaneously expanded my comprehension of the rich interconnectedness of our individual paths. It has reminded me too of how significantly our moods and mindsets can shift from acting upon one outwardly small but specific intention. There are so many choices to be molded, so many possibilities to choose from and subsequently learn from.
Just the other day, a friend of mine suggested that once she leaves New York City, she hopes to live an entirely different life—one set in a rural locale, where she can live not by a clock but by the ever-changing light of day and night, where she can focus less on survival and more on filling the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual potential that lives within her. Such a beautiful vision that I too similarly share. So many other layers of meaning that could come into being, a largely new iteration of a life’s story.
Dreaming of the future is a beautiful practice that serves to inspire and egg us on towards our utter fulfillment, but in light of all these thoughts—and to not get ahead of ourselves—what is it that we, in this very moment, aspire to pursue? What seeds can we plant to set such growth in motion, and how can we then step back, even as we nourish the seeds, to witness what actually emerges? As much as we seek to make meaning out of life, if we could be more present, giving more attention and care to what lives right in front of us, could we derive whole other layers of meaning and depth that we previously could not have conceived possible? Perhaps ‘making meaning’ in our lives need not be such an active endeavor; meaning will materialize effortlessly, if only we are brave and open enough to meet it in its truest forms.
- Liz Beres